Twilight (Frankau)/Chapter II
I began the search for those letters the very next day, knowing how absurd it was, as if one were still a child who expected to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I made Suzanne telephone to Dr. Kennedy that I was much better and would prefer he did not call. I really wanted to be alone, to make my search complete, not to be interrupted. If it were not true that I was better, at least I was no worse, only heavy and dull in body and mind, every movement an almost unbearable fatigue. Nevertheless I sat down with determination at the writing-table, intent on opening every drawer and cupboard, calling to Suzanne to help me, on the pretence of wanting white paper to line the drawers, and a duster to clean them. In reality, that she should do the stooping instead of me. But everywhere was emptiness or dust. I crawled to the music room after lunch and tried my luck there, amid the heaped disorderly music, but there too the search proved unavailing. It was no use going downstairs again, so I went to bed, before dinner, passing a white night with red pain points, beyond the reach even of nepenthe. I had counted on seeing Margaret Capel again, getting fuller instructions, but was disappointed in that also.
The next day and many others were equally full and equally empty. I looked in unlikely places until I was tired out; dragging about my worn-out body that had been whipped into a pretence of activity by my driving brain. Dr. Kennedy came and went, talking spasmodically of Margaret Capel, watching me, I thought sometimes, with puzzled enquiring eyes. My family in London was duly informed how well I was, and the good that the rest and solitude were doing me. I felt horribly ill, and towards the end of my second week gave up seeking for Margaret Capel's letters or papers. I was still intent upon writing her story, but had made up my mind now to compile it from the facts I could persuade or force from Dr. Kennedy, from old newspaper reports, and other sources. It was borne in upon me that to go on with, my work was the only way to save myself from what I now thought was mental as well as physical breakdown. I saw Margaret elusively, was never quite free from the sense that I was not alone. The chills that ran through me meant that she was behind me; the hot flushes that she was about to materialise. In normal times I was the most dogmatic disbeliever in the occult; but now I believed Carbies to be haunted.
When I was able to think soundly and consecutively, I began to piece together what little I knew of these two people by whom I was obsessed. For it was not only Margaret, but Gabriel Stanton whom I felt, or suspected, about the house. Stanton & Co. were my own publishers. I had not known them as Margaret Capel's. Gabriel was not the member of the firm I saw when I made my rare calls in Greyfriars' Square. He was understood to be occupied only with the classical works issued by the well-known house. Somewhere or other I had heard that he had achieved a great reputation at Oxford and knew more about Greek roots than any living authority. On the few occasions we met I had felt him antagonistic or contemptuous. He would come into the room where I was talking to Sir George and back out again quickly, saying he was sorry, or that he did not know his cousin was engaged. Sir George introduced us more than once, but Mr. Gabriel Stanton always seemed to have forgotten the circumstance. I remembered him as a tall thin man, with deep-set eyes and sunken mouth, a gentleman, as all the Stantons were, but as different as possible from his genial partner. I had, I have, a soft spot in my heart for Sir George Stanton, and had met with much kindness from him. Gabriel, too, may have had a charm—they were notoriously a charming family,but he had not exerted it for my benefit. He and all of them were so respectable, so traditionally and inalienably respectable, that it was difficult to readjust my slowly working mind and think of him as any woman's lover; illegitimate lover, as he seemed to be in this case. I wrote to my secretary in London to look up everything that was known about Margaret Capel. Before her reply came I had another attack of pleurisy—I had had several in London,—and this brought Ella to me, to say nothing of various hungry and impotent London consultants.
As I said before, this is not a history of my illness, nor of my sister's encompassing love that ultimately enabled me to weather it, that forced me again and again from the arms of Death, that friend for whom at times my weakness yearned. The fight was all from the outside. As for me, I laid down my weapons early. I dreaded pain more than death, and do still, the passing through and not the arrival, writhing under the shame of my beaten body, wanting to hide. Yet publicity beat upon me, streamed into the room like midday sun. There were bulletins in the papers and the Press Association rang up and asked for late and early news. Obituary notices were probably being prepared. Everybody knew that at which I was still only guessing. It irked me sometimes to know they would be only paragraphs and not columns, and I knew Ella would be vexed.
When the acuteness of this particular attack subsided I thought again of Margaret Capel and Gabriel Stanton, yet could not talk of them. For Ella knew nothing of the former occupants of the house, and for some inexplicable reason Dr. Kennedy had left off coming. His partner, or substitute, whose Cheshire-cat grin I easily recognised, made no secret, notwithstanding his cheerfulness, of the desperate view he took of my condition. I hated his futile fruitless examinations, the consultations whereat I was sure he aired his provincial self-importance, his great cool hands on my pulse and smug dogmatic ignorance. "The pain is just here," he would announce, but not even by accident did he ever once hit upon the right spot.
Fortunately Ella was there. She must have arrived many days before I recognised her. The household was moving on oiled wheels, my meals were brought me now on trays with delicate napery and a flower or two. Scent sprays and early strawberries, down pillows and Jaegar sheets, a water bed presently, and all the luxuries, told me undeniably she was in the vicinity. I had always known how it would be. That once I admitted to helplessness she would give up her home life and all the joys of her well-filled days, and would live for me only. Because her tenderness for me met mine for her and was too poignant for my growing weakness, I had denied us both. Her the joy of giving and myself of taking. Now, without acknowledgment or word of gratitude, I accepted all.
"Don't go away," were the first words I said to her. I! who had begged her so hard not to come, repudiated her anxiety so violently.
"Of course not. Why should I? I always like the country in the early spring," she answered coolly. "Do you want anything?" She came nearer to the bed.
"What has become of Dr. Kennedy?" I asked.
"I thought you did not like him. Suzanne told me that often you would not see him when he called. And you were quite right. It was evident he did not know what was the matter with you."
"No one does."
"You have not helped us." Her eyelids were pink, but otherwise she did not reproach me.
"And now I am going to die, I suppose."
"Die! You are not going to die; don't be so absurd. I wouldn't let you, for one thing. And why should you? People don't die of pleurisy, or neuritis. You are better today than you were yesterday, and you will be better still tomorrow. I know."
Outside the room she may have wept, for, as I said, her eyelids were pink. Inside it she was all quiet confidence and courage.
"I want Dr. Kennedy. Get him back to me." I did not argue with her whether I would live or die, it was too futile.
"This man Lansdowne is F.R.C.S. and M.D. London," she reminded me.
"I don't care if he's all the letters of the alphabet. He grins at me, talks smugly, patronises me, pats my shoulder. He will send his carriage to follow the funeral. I see in his face that he has made up his mind to it."
Nurse interfered and said that Dr. Lansdowne was most able.
"Send her out of the room." I was impatient at her interference.
"All right, nurse, I'll sit with Mrs. Vevaseur until you've had your dinner. You won't talk too much?" she said to me imploringly.
"Perhaps," I answered, and smiled. It was good to have Ella sitting with me again.
"The doctor did not wish her to speak at all, nor to see visitors."
I don't know how Ella managed to get that authoritative white-capped female out of the room, but she did; she had infinite tact and resource.
"Shall I get my needlework? Or would you rather I read to you? You really mustn't talk."
"Neither. You are not going away?"
"I am staying as long as you want me."
Not a word about the times when I had told her brutally to let me alone, when I had almost turned her out of the house in London, finally fled from her here. That was Ella all over, and characteristic of me that I could not even thank her. When she said she would stay it seemed too good to be true. I questioned her about her responsibilities.
"What about Violet and Tommy, the paper?" For Ella, too, was bound on the Ixion wheel of the weekly press.
"It's all right; everything has been arranged, in the best possible way. I am quite free. I shan't go away until you ask me to go."
Then I began to cry, in my great weakness, but hid my eyes, for I knew my tears would hurt her. I gave way only for a moment. It was such a relief to know her there, to feel I was being cared for. Paid service is only for the sound.
Ella pretended not to notice my little breakdown, although she was not far off it herself. She began to talk of indifferent things. Who had telegraphed, or rung up; she told me that the news of my illness had been in the papers. All my good friends whom I had avoided during those dreary months had forgotten they had been snubbed and came forward with genuine sympathy and offers of help. I soon stopped her from telling me about them. It made me feel ashamed and unworthy. I could not recollect ever having done anything for anybody.
"About getting Dr. Kennedy back?"
"He neglected you disgracefully; wrote me lightly. I don't wonder you told him not to call."
"I want him back."
"Then you shall have him back. You shall have everything you want, only go on getting better." She turned her face away from me.
"Have I begun?"
She made no answer, and I knew it was because she could not at the moment command her voice.
So I stayed quiet a little while. Then I began again to beg her to rid me of Lansdowne.
"After all, he is independent of his profession," she said at length thoughtfully, thinking of his feelings and how not to hurt them. "He married a rich woman."
"He would. And I am sure he has no children," I answered.
"Good heavens! How did you know? You are cleverer when you are ill than other people when they are well."
That is like Ella, too, she has an exaggerated and absurd opinion of my talent. Just because I write novels which are paid for beyond their deserts!
I don't know how she did it, I don't know how she accomplished half of the magical wonderful things she did for my comfort all that sad time. But I was not even surprised, a few days later, when I really was better and sitting up in bed; propped up by pillows, I admit, but still actually sitting up; that Dr. Kennedy, tall and unaltered, with the same light in his eye, even the same dreadful country suit, lounged in and sat on the chair by my side. Ella went away when he came in, she always had an idea that patients like to see their doctors alone. She flirts with hers, I think. She is incurably flirtatious in her leisure hours.
"You've had a bad time," he said abruptly.
"You didn't try to make it any better," I answered weakly.
"Oh! I! I was dismissed. Your sister turned me out. She said I hadn't recognised how ill you were. I told her she was quite right. I didn't tell her how often you had refused to see me."
"Did you know how ill I was?"
"I'm not sure." He smiled, and so did I.
"Were you so ill?"
"I know now what Margaret Capel felt about Dr. Lansdowne."
"He is a very able fellow. And you've had Felton, Shorter, Lawson."
"Don't remind me."
"Anyway you are getting better now."
"Am I? I am so hideously weak."
"Not beginning to write again yet! You see, I know all about you now. I've taken a course of your novels."
"Thinking all the time how much better Margaret Capel wrote?"
"You haven't forgotten Margaret, then?"
"Have you?" He became quite grave and pale.
"I! I shall never forget Margaret Capel."
Up till then he had been light and airy in manner, as if this visit and circumstance and poor me, who had been so near the Gates, were of little consequence.
"Did you think how much worse I wrote than she did, that I was no stylist?"
"Why do you say that?"
I was glad to see him and wished to keep him by my side. I thought what I was going to tell him would secure my object.
"She told me so herself" I shot at him, and watched to see how he would take it. "The last time I saw you, the night the pleurisy started, she sat over there by the fireside. We talked together confidentially, she said she knew I would write her story, and was sorry because I had no style." There was a flush on his forehead, he looked to where I said she sat.
"What else did she say?" He did not seem to doubt me or to be surprised.
"You believe I saw her, that it was not a dream?"
"There is an unexplored borderland between dreams and reality. Fever often bridges it. Your temperature was probably high. And I, and you, were so full of her. Go on. Tell me what she wore."
"She was dressed in grey, a white fichu over her shoulders."
"And a pink rose."
"Her hair …"
"Was snooded with a blue ribbon." He finished my sentences excitedly.
"No. It was hanging in plaits."
"Oh, no! Not when she wore the grey dress." He had risen and was standing by the bed now, he seemed anxious, almost imploring. "Think again. Shut your eyes and think again. Surely she had the blue ribbon."
I shut my eyes as he bade me. Then opened them and stared at him.
"But how did you know?"
"Go on. There was a blue ribbon in her hair?"
"The first time I saw her. The next time her hair was hanging down her back, two great plaits of fair hair, and she had on a blue dressing-gown."
"With a white collar like a fine handkerchief, showing her slender throat."
"How well you knew her clothes."
"There was a sense of fitness about her, an exquisite sense of fitness. She would not have worn her hair down with that grey dress."
"You know I really did see her."
"Of course. Go on. Tell me exactly what she said, word for word."
"About my bad style."
"About your good sense of comradeship with her."
"She said I would write the story. Hers and Gabriel Stanton's."
I told him all she had said, word for word as well as I could remember it, keeping my eyes shut, speaking slowly, remembering well.
"She told me of the letters and diary, the notes, chapter headings, all she had prepared...."
I turned my head away, sank down amongst the pillows, and turned my head away. I didn't want him to see my disappointment, to know that I had found nothing. Now I recognised my weakness, that I was spent with feverish nights and pain.
"I can't talk any more." He put his hand upon my pulse.
"Your pulse is quite strong."
"I am not," I said shortly. I wished Ella would come back.
"You looked for them?" I did not answer.
"I am so sorry. Blundering fool that I am. You looked, and looked... that is why you kept me at arm's length, would not see me, wanted to be alone. You were searching. Why didn't I think of it before?. But how did I know she would come to you, confide in you?"
He was talking to himself now, seemed to forget me and my grave illness. "I might have thought of it though. From the first I pictured you two together. I have them. I took them... didn't you guess?" I forgot the extreme weakness of which I had complained, and caught hold of his coat sleeve, a little breathless.
"You took them... stole them?"
"Yes. If you put it that way. Who had a better right? I knew everything. Her father, her people, nothing, or very little. And she had not wished them to know."
"She was going to write the story, whatever it was; to publish it."
"No! not immediately, not until long afterwards, not until it would hurt no one. They were in the writing-table drawer, the letters, in an elastic band. She was not tidy as a rule with papers, but these were tidy. The diary was bound in soft grey leather, and there were a few rough notes; loose, on MS. paper. You know all that happened there; the excitement was intense. How could I bear her papers, his letters, her notes to fall into strange hands. I was doing what she would wish, I knew I was carrying out her wishes. The day she... she died I gathered them all together, slipped them into my greatcoat pocket; the car was at the door. I hurried away as if I had been a thief, the thief you are thinking me."
"Got home quickly, gloated over them all that evening."
"I swear to you, I swear to you I have never opened the packet. I have never looked at them. I made one parcel of them all, of the letters, diary, notes; wrapped them all together in brown paper, tied it up with string, sealed it."
"You've got it still!" I was in high excitement, all my pulses throbbing, face flushed, hands hot, breathless.
"In the safe at my bank. I took it there the next morning."
"You are going to give me the packet?"
"But of course." He seemed suddenly to recollect that I was an invalid, that he was supposed to be my doctor. "I say, all this excitement is very bad for you. Your sister will turn me out again. Can't you lie down, get quiet,—you've jumped from 90 to 112." His hand was on my pulse again. I knew I was going beyond my tether and cursed my weakness.
"You won't change your mind!" I was lying on my back now, quite still, trying to quiet myself as he had told me. "Promise!"
"I'll get the packet in the morning, as soon as the bank is open, and come straight on here with it. You must find some place to put it. Where you can see it, know it's there all the time. But you mustn't open it, you must get stronger first. You know you can't use it yet."
"Yes, I can."
"It would be very wrong. You wouldn't do it well."
"I'm sick of being ordered about." But I could barely move and breathing was becoming difficult to me, I had a sense of faintness, suffocation, the room grew dark. He opened the door and called nurse. Ella came in with her. I was conscious of that.
"What does she have when she is like this? Smelling salts, brandy?" Nurse began to fan me; my cheeks were very flushed.
Ella opened the windows, wide, quietly; the scent of the gorse came in. I did not want to speak, only to be able to breathe.
Nurse telegraphed him an enquiring glance. Strychnine? her dumb lips asked. He shook his head.
"Oxygen. Have you got a cylinder of oxygen in the house?" He took the pillows from under my head.
I don't know what they tried or left untried. Whenever I opened my eyes I sought for Ella's. I knew she would not let them do anything to me that might bring the pain back. I was only overtired. I managed to say so presently. When I was really better and Dr. Kennedy gone, Ella said a bitter word or two about him. Nurse too thought she should have been called sooner. A good nurse, but dissatisfied up to now with all my treatment, with my change of doctors, with my resistance to authority, and Ella's interference.
"Ella." She had been sitting by the fire but came over to me at once.
"What is it? I am only going to stop a minute. Then I shall leave you to nurse. That man stopped too long, over-excited you. We mustn't have him again, he doesn't understand you."
"Yes he does; perfectly." My voice may have been faint, but I succeeded in making it urgent. "Ella, I want to see him again in the morning, nothing must prevent it, nothing. Don't talk against him, I want him."
"Then you shall have him," she decided promptly. Notwithstanding my terrible weakness and want of breath I smiled at her.
"I suppose you've fallen in love with him," she said. Love and love-making were half her life, the game she found most fascinating. They were nothing to do with mine.
"See that he comes. That's all. However ill I am, whether I'm ill or not, he is to come."
"You noticed his clothes?"
Nurse I suppose thought we had both gone mad. But she came over to me and lifted me into a more comfortable position, fanned me again, and when the fanning had done its work brought eau de Cologne and water and sponged my face, my hot hands. She told Ella that she ought to go, that I ought to be alone, that I should have a bad night if I were not left to myself. Ella only wanted to do what was best for me.
"I am sure you are right, nurse. I shan't come in again. Sleep well."
"You are sure?"
"Quite sure that Dr. Kennedy shall come in the morning, if I have to drag him here. It's a pity you will have an executioner instead of a doctor; he seems to do you harm every time he comes. You had your worst attack when he was here before. Good-night. I do wish you had better taste."
She kept her light tone up to the last, although I saw she was pale with anxiety and sympathy. Days ago she had asked me if the nurses were good and kind to me, and if I liked them, and had received my assurance that this one at least was the best I had ever had, clever and untiring. If only she had not been so sure of herself and that she knew better than I did what was good for me, I should have thought her perfect. She had a delightful voice, never touched me unnecessarily, nor brushed against the bed. But she was younger than I, and I resented her authority. We were often in antagonism, for I was a bad invalid, in resistance all the time. I had not learnt yet how to be ill! The lesson was taught me slowly, cruelly, but I recognised Benham's quality long before I gave in to her. Now I was glad that Ella should go, that nurse should minister to me alone. I wanted the night to come... and go. But my exhaustion was so complete that I had forgotten why.